Monday, May 31, 2010

Meaning of Australia English - two chances

Two chances is a popular Australian slang phrase. It is variously expressed as you've got two chances, you've got Buckley's or, in full, you've got two chances, Buckley's or none. The phrase means not a hope.

The phrase was probably Victorian in origin. Growing up in Northern NSW, I knew it but did not use it. Today, it's use wide spread.

Two different origins are generally given for the phrase, although other claims have been out forward.

The first and most widespread is that the phrase comes from the convict William Buckley. Buckley absconded from Port Phillip in 1803, living with the Aborigines until 1835. He captured the public imagination by surviving. If the phrase does link to this experience, then the meaning has been inverted, for Buckley did survive. Such inversion would fit with Australian culture.

Australian historian Russell Ward certainly believed this explanation, for that was the way he explained it to us in Australian History.

The second main explanation for the phrase is that it is rhyming slang drawn from the name of a popular Melbourne Department store, Buckley & Nunn

In exploring the origin of the phrase, Frederick Ludowyk notes that it does not appear to have come into common usage until the 1890s. Initially, it was written in inverted commas to mark the fact that it was slang Within ten years, the inverted commas had been dropped, making the phrase a normal part of the language.

The 1890s is very late for a term based on William Buckley's experiences. However, whatever the origin, the phrase is very Australian because of its ironical description of fate.    


Unknown said...


The parts left out of the William Buckley explanation do enlighten it a little. Buckley, like many before him, supposedly crossed the Blue Mountains on the assumption that China was there. He was then going to catch a boat back to England.

20 years of living with the Aborigines would, in those days, have been equated with hell on earth.

Hence the lack of sarcasm in "Buckley's chance"

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Bob. Good point, although Buckley was Vic.